7 Steps to Proper Website Conversion Optimization

7 Steps to Proper Website Conversion Optimization

According to Peter Drucker, “What gets measured gets managed.”

That’s all well and good, but I’ve got a better one…  According to Sarah Russell, “Stop telling me you’re a real affiliate marketer when you don’t know the first thing about your site’s analytics or conversions data!”

Okay, so maybe mine doesn’t flow quite as well…  But the reality is that if you aren’t measuring your site’s conversion rate for whatever specific goal you’re targeting, you’re losing money.  Here’s how to remedy the situation and start dramatically improving your website results once and for all!

Step #1 – Install analytics software

No matter where you are in the conversion rate optimization process, stop right now and get Google Analytics installed on your site.  The best CRO plans are based on data – and if you don’t have Google Analytics (or some other web data alternative) installed, you don’t have data.

Down the line, you may want to add more specialized analytics programs to your web data arsenal, including affiliate conversion tracking programs (I use Xtreme Conversions) or heatmap software (my favorite right now is CrazyEgg), depending on the specific types of goals you want to track.  However, to get the baseline visitor and goal data needed to build your conversion optimization plan, the free Google Analytics represents a great starting point.

Step #2 – Set your goals

Truly, you can’t optimize your website for conversions if you don’t know exactly what metrics you’re trying to achieve – which is why the first step of this process is to set specific goals for your conversion optimization program.

Typically, website goals fall into a couple of different categories:

  • Increasing sales of info products
  • Increasing affiliate sales
  • Increasing email list subscribers
  • Increasing offline business leads

Chances are you already have an idea of what you want your website to do.  After all, you probably didn’t just build your website for shits and giggles or assume that it would start making money *somehow*.  Instead, you built your site with a monetization model or goal type in mind, so it shouldn’t take you a ton of time to choose the appropriate goal from this list or come up with an alternative.

Of course, none of these goal types are specific enough for our needs.  “Increasing affiliate sales” is incredibly subjective – are you trying to increase your commissions to $100/month or $100,000/month?  If you don’t know what your eventual target is, how will you know you’ve been successful?

One goal that I recommend when it comes to building Amazon affiliate sites is to try to get your website to $100/month in affiliate commissions within the first 3-6 months.  It’ll take time for your site to be indexed and ranked appropriately, but setting a short window to achieve this relatively modest income goal should give you an idea of whether the site should be scaled up or scrapped.

Also, I’d highly encourage you to focus on a single goal at a time.  If you run an Amazon affiliate product site, you may want to both increase your affiliate conversions and build a list, but focusing on optimizing each at the same time can be challenging.  Pick one goal to focus on at first and then move to another project as soon as you feel like you’ve made sufficient traction with your initial project.

Step #3 – Determine how your goals will be measured and achieved

Now that you know which particular type of conversion you’d like to improve upon, you’ll need to figure out how your goal’s success will be measured and achieved.  This might require a little background research on your part, depending on the goal type you’ve selected and how familiar you already are with your website’s metrics.

Let’s look at an example to see why this is the case…

Suppose you run an Amazon affiliate website, and your goal is to increase your overall commission income.  While you’ll know that your conversion optimization program is succeeding if the amount of money in your affiliate account goes up, this overall trend doesn’t tell us much about why and how increased conversions are occurring, or how to increase them even further in the future.

In fact, there could be several different reasons why your overall income is going up:

  • Your overall traffic increases, as a result of better SERPs rankings or increased referral traffic from link partner sites.
  • More of your visitors are clicking on your affiliate links, increasing the relative number of visitors that convert to buyers (even if your traffic levels remain consistent).
  • You’ve added a new traffic source to your profile that has an overall higher conversion rate than your other traffic sources.

Even something as simple as, “selling more products” can result from a myriad of different causes.  At this point in the process, it’s only important that you understand the different mechanisms that might lead to goal success, so spend some time thinking through all the possible scenarios that could result in you meeting your goal.  Later, we’ll use our analytics programs to determine conclusively which scenario helps us achieve our conversion goals most efficiently.

Step #4 – Brainstorm why conversions might not be occurring

Now, before we set up conversion tracking within our analytics programs, we’ve got one final brainstorming task to complete – understanding why conversions may not be occurring in the first place.

In future steps of this process, we’ll be setting up split tests designed to make the conversion process as effective as possible.  So for now, let’s lay the groundwork needed to run these tests efficiently by brainstorming different site elements that could be holding back our conversion rates.

Following with our Amazon affiliate review website example, suppose we’ve made it our goal to increase affiliate commissions.  After taking a good hard look at the site in question, we’ve come up with the following reasons that sales might not be occurring:

  • The website design isn’t professional enough, meaning that people don’t trust our recommendations.
  • There’s no clear “flow” on the website that tells readers what to do next.
  • There’s no strong call to action within our product reviews that tells people to click through to our affiliate links.
  • The reviews on our site are too dense and need more pictures to engage interest.

As you brainstorm potential website pitfalls, make a note of the element you think is having the largest impact on your overall conversion rates – we’ll start with this split test later on in this process.

(Note – If you’re struggling to identify which elements on your site might be preventing conversions, read through my “Are You a Conversions Ninja?” article.  It’ll help you diagnose a number of different situations based on what your existing analytics and sales data are telling you.)

Step #5 – Set up goals and funnels within your analytics software

Hold on to your hats!  It’s time to start putting the various elements we’ve brainstormed into practice!

At this point in the conversion rate optimization process, you should have a good idea of how to proceed.  You’ve got a specific, measurable goal in mind, have an idea of the different mechanisms that could trigger this success, and have thought through different reasons why your conversions are being held back.

Now, it’s time to start measuring!

If you’re using Google Analytics as your web metrics tracker, goals and funnels are going to become your new best friends.  Basically, these features allow you to track certain actions, events or processes in Google Analytics in order to determine how and why they’re occurring.

To get started with goals tracking, log in to your Google Analytics dashboard, click “Admin” from the upper right corner and then select the “Goals” tab from the “Profiles” menu.  From here, you’ll be able to set up a goal by clicking “+ Goal”, which will cause four standard goal types to appear:

  • URL Destination
  • Visit Duration
  • Page/Visit
  • Event

The first three of these goal types are fairly self-explanatory.  “Visit Duration” and “Page/Visit” both measure basic levels of visitor engagement by measuring average time on site and bounce rate (as determined by a page/visit ratio greater than 1).  “URL Destination” can be useful if you sell a product or encourage some other action in which visitors will be directed to a specific page upon goal completion (typically a “Thank you” page).

To set up any of these goal types, simply select the radio button from the list and enter any necessary details before launching your goal.

Event goals are a little trickier to understand, but they’re by far the most useful.  Essentially, event goals let you track when “something” occurs on your site.  That “something” might be a visitor:

  • Clicking on one of your affiliate links
  • Watching an embedded video on your site
  • Downloading a white paper or other document on your site

Pretty much anything that requires clicking on a link to complete an action can be tracked as an event goal within Google Analytics!  To learn more about how to set up your own specific types of goals within Google Analytics, take a look at the following resources:

Funnels – on the other hand – are a little more complex, and they’re really only useful if you control the entire transaction process on your site.

Basically, if you sell a product on your website, funnels allow you to add special tracking code to each page that’s part of your “sales funnel” (for example, your sales letter, up-sell page, checkout page and confirmation page) to see where people are dropping out of your sales process.  Plugging these leaks can be a tremendous way to increase conversions, so if you’re tracking a conversion type that occurs entirely on your own site, check out Google’s help section for more information on setting up funnels.

But don’t just go and read these awesome articles!  Once you’re finished, take the time to set up your first goal or funnel within Google Analytics for best results.

Step #6 – Set up split tests using Google’s Website Optimizer

Now that you’re tracking your goal in Google Analytics, it’s time to mix things up with some split testing!  If you remember only one thing about this article, let it be that both measuring and testing are both vital parts of the conversion rate optimization process.  Simply measuring data and web metrics within Google Analytics tells us what *is* occurring, but we want to know what’s possible – and for that, we need split testing.

Keeping with our Amazon affiliate site example from earlier, suppose you determined that the factor likely causing your low conversion rate is your non-existent call to action.  Instead of just assuming that this is true and making the change (remember – your assumptions may be wrong), you’ll want to set up split tests that allow you to conclusively test your original page against one or more variations to attempt to resolve this issue.

Personally, my favorite tool to use for split testing is Google’s Website Optimizer.  It’s free to use, and it plays nice with Google Analytics (even if you’re using WordPress).

So as with setting up your first goal in Google Analytics, get started with split testing as soon as possible in order to start improving your conversion rates fast.  Be sure to allow your test enough time to gather data (typically at least 100 conversions) before making a conclusion based on the data you generate.

(Note – if you’ve decided to increase conversions by growing particular traffic sources, you’re better off using Google Analytics’ “Advanced Segments” to sort results by traffic source, rather than setting up a split test.)

Step #7 – Lather, rinse and repeat

Congratulations!  If you’ve made it to this point, you’ve accomplished a tremendous amount.  Not only have you set goals for yourself and determined how you’ll meet them, but you’ve also put the necessary tools and tests in place to eventually achieve your goals.

But by no means are you done here…  The most effective websites achieve this status through the use of continual testing, tracking and implementing, so as soon as you’ve reached one goal (or gathered enough data to demonstrate that you won’t be able to achieve it), it’s time to set up the next one!

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7 Responses to 7 Steps to Proper Website Conversion Optimization

  1. Hi there

    Really enjoyed this post and has given me some pointers to follow.

    Having just started up almost 2 months ago, my site is still a bit on the thin side. I am working on adding more content as I proceed on the way forward. At the moment I have started using adsense.

    One question though. When do I concentrate on monetizing?

    As content is added or rather wait until there is sufficient content?

    There are few schools of thought on this which I have picked up on some of my reading.

    Thanks for an inspiring Post.

    • Sarah says:

      Personally, with Adsense sites, I usually monetize right away. Partially because the WP themes I use have ad placements built in, but also because I don’t think Google has as much of an issue with Adsense as it does with affiliate links.

      In those cases, I’ll wait until I have a few posts up and indexed, and a few quality backlinks pointing in (typically 2-4 weeks for me) before adding in affiliate links. But you’re right that there are different schools of thought on this, so I can’t say for sure that that’s the best approach – it’s just what’s worked for me 🙂

  2. Kalen says:

    You have some good tips here as always Sarah! Another plugin I found was Premium List Magnate. I am using the free version which seems pretty good. That works for increasing subscribers.

    However, I would also mention that in many cases it isn’t the product or conversion setup but also the traffic you are bringing in and the way you market the site. When I started my first site I found that traffic coming from some sources converted and others didn’t. I realized a lot of my marketing was through a tangential niche that wasn’t really a good fit for my own site. This made me consider the problem may have been more with more marketing than the conversions, products or setup of my site.

    However, it could have been both. I guess the analysis is really subjective, but you need to make your best guess and try to come up with a solution. It’s probably impossible to know for sure, but the tips you have here are great for helping people come up with a good solution!

    • Sarah says:

      Kalen – Very, very good point. Targeting the wrong traffic source is definitely something that should be filed under the “Brainstorm reasons your site might not be converting” category, and it’s a mistake I’ve made plenty often myself.

      The best way to figure that out is by setting up defined goals within Google Analytics and then measuring conversions against different Advanced Segments set up by traffic source, but it can take a while to generate enough data to tell conclusively which sources are working.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. Chas says:

    I actually had problems with Google Analytics, so I switched to StatCounter. My web site host also has an analytic tool called Awstats in the cPanel that seems more accurate on some things, but, I compare the Analytics of the two. There were a couple of others recommended to me, but, I have forgotten what they were, now.

  4. Clarkmartin says:

    Hi Sarah
    Wow! Great advice. I’m working my way down this list and so soon we’ll be big enough to use you as our paid consultants. Then who knows where we’ll end up.
    Thanks for share it.

  5. Stop #8: cross your fingers and hope for a lucky day.. 🙂

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